Aryan is a term that has had diverse meanings throughout history, taken from different cultures and languages. However, its interpretation may vary based on context, making it crucial to deliberate its usage carefully.
In the ancient times, ‘Aryan’ was primarily used to denote a group of languages, known as the Indo-Iranian languages, part of the larger Indo-European family of languages. This use was prevalent around 1500 to 1000 BC, where the term was widely seen in ancient Hindu manuscripts, mainly in the ‘Rigveda’, stating it as ‘ā́rya’. Here, Aryan refers to a noble or high-born, indicating social rather than ethnic affinities.
Around the 19th century, Aryan started to gain another connotation altogether. It began to be identified in Western academia with the ancestral Indo-European language, a hypothetical prehistoric language of Eurasia. ‘Aryan’ was then corrected precisely as ‘Indo-Aryan’ or sometimes ‘Indo-Hittite’ languages.
However, the term “Aryan” was hijacked in a more sinister direction during the era of the Nazis in Germany. They used it to categorize what they believed to be a superior ‘Aryan race,’ considered to be the superior group, primarily characterized by Northern European features such as blond hair, blue eyes, and tall stature. This terminological misuse resulted in tragic consequences, including genocide during the Holocaust. Noteworthy, it was the racial philosophy built on a pseudo-scientific and fallacious interpretation of the term.
Nonetheless, after World War II, the term has almost entirely fallen out of use as a racial descriptor in anthropological literature, given its tainted history. It is now chiefly used to denote the Indo-Iranian languages, going back to its original connotation.
In conclusion, the term ‘Aryan’ has diverse connotations that vary contextually. Its original application referred to a classification of languages, the Indo-Iranian or Indo-Aryan languages, but with the Nazi misuse to denote a so-called Aryan race, its interpretation has frequently been controversial and problematic. It is necessary, therefore, to use this term with a comprehensive understanding and caution to respect its historical significance and implications.